Fiction break

Something already written but that I’m dusting off…

She had always liked getting the mail. As a kid, on the long lazy days of summer she spent catching frogs in the pond across the road and wandering in the woods behind the house, she would arrive back home in the early afternoon when she knew the mail carrier would be coming. She would squint her eyes at the end of the driveway, trying to see if the little flag on the mailbox had been flipped down, the surest sign that there would be mail waiting. On days there was no outgoing mail and no telltale flag, she would take her book to the front porch to stand guard, reading a few lines before casting her eyes to the road, jumping at every rumble of a car that passed by. Living outside of town, they weren’t visited by a big white truck with an eagle logo. Instead, their mail carrier drove an old silver Camry with a stick-on amber warning light on the roof. The curve of the road and the arc of the trees meant she usually didn’t see the car until after it had made its delivery; it moved slowly enough that sometimes she missed it altogether if she was lost enough in her book. If she realized she had read a few pages without looking up, she would jump up with a start, and wander down the driveway to check, just in case she had missed it. She would inspect the lilacs along the way, and feign interest in an ant colony, so that it wouldn’t be readily apparent (to whom, she now wondered) that she was checking the mailbox for the third time in ten minutes. When she did spot the car, she would throw her book down and run halfway down the driveway, only to stop out of shyness and a bit of shame (the carrier had once called attention to her love of getting the mail, which started her flower-and-ant-inspecting routine and reluctance to ever speak to the carrier ever again). As soon as the car rumbled away, she wrenched the rusty mailbox door open to reveal its contents. She would organize the disarray of envelopes into size order and separate those addressed to just her mom (PTA mailers and Good Housekeeping), just her dad (bills and Newsweek), and the two of them together (handwritten cards). She usually got to keep anything that was addressed to “Resident,” and she would spend the afternoon clipping coupons and reading local news mailers.

Thirty years later, as she unlocked the small box in the foyer of her apartment building, she remembered her sprints to the end of the driveway to meet the mail. An eight-year-old doesn’t get any mail, so it obviously wasn’t about the contents—she supposed good training for adulthood, as she sifted through the credit card offers and election-season pamphlets. But then, her foot paused on the first step of the faux marble staircase. An envelope that looked like all the others—formal typed address, a stamped insignia in the upper left corner, bulk-grade paper—caused her heart to catch in her throat.

It was the insignia. A small eagle with an American flag, the kind of eager patriotism that adorns rural businesses and bumper stickers, as if going overboard will ensure no one questions their loyalties. As if anyone from the outside world ever ventures to those kinds of places in order to question them.

Almost ever.

With trembling hands, she tried to slide her finger under the flap, as she’d done a million times before. She gasped and swore as the paper sliced her index finger, which instinctively flew to her mouth for comfort. A bit more carefully, she attempted again, freeing the single thin sheet of paper from within.

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